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In an evening graciously hosted by ZYZZYVA, who recently published their 100th issue, Tess Taylor and D. A. Powell sat with a small group in the poetry room of City Lights to read some of their own poems. Taylor read excerpts from her latest collection, The Forage House, published last year by Red Hen Press, while Powell read a mixture of some of his favorite past poems.
The Forage House is at once a sensuous reckoning with an ambiguous family history and a haunting meditation on national legacy. In it, the speaker unravels a rich and troubling history. Some of her ancestors were the Randolph Jeffersons, one of Virginia’s most prominent slaveholding families. Some were New England missionaries. Some were dirt-poor Appalachians. And one was the brilliant, controversial Thomas Jefferson. Shuttling between legend and story, history and family tale, these poems visit cluttered attics, torn wills, and marked and unmarked graves. Many of the poems were written while Tess was in residence at Monticello, in dialog with and working alongside historians and archaeologists there. Based in years of research and travel, these poems form a kind of lyric journalism, collaged from tantalizing fragments. The Forage House explores how we make stories, and how stories—even painful ones—make us.
Tess Taylor has received writing fellowships from Amherst College, The American Antiquarian Society, The Berkshire Taconic Community Foundation, The International Center for Jefferson Studies, The Headlands Center for the Arts, and The MacDowell Colony. Her chapbook, The Misremembered World, was selected by Eavan Boland and published by the Poetry Society of America, and her poetry and nonfiction have appeared in The Atlantic, Boston Review, Harvard Review, Literary Imagination, The Times Literary Supplement, and The New Yorker. Her essay, “The Waste Land App” published in The Threepenny Review, won a 2013 Pushcart Prize. She currently reviews poetry for NPR’s All Things Considered and teaches writing at the University of California, Berkeley. She lives in El Cerrito, California. Her book of poems, The Forage House, is published by Red Hen Press.
D. A. Powell is the author of five collections, including Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys which received the National Book Critics Circle Award in poetry. His honors include the Kingsley Tufts Prize in Poetry and an Arts & Letters Award in Literature from the American Academy of Arts & Letters, as well as fellowships from the Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Critic Stephen Burt, writing in the New York Times, said of D. A. Powell: “No accessible poet of his generation is half as original, and no poet as original is this accessible.” A former Briggs-Copeland Lecturer in Poetry at Harvard University, Powell has taught at The University of San Francisco, Columbia University, The University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop, and Davidson College. He lives in San Francisco. Useless Landscape, or A Guide for Boys is Powell’s fifth collection of poems.
Oscar Villalon is the former book editor at the San Francisco Chronicle and a board member of the National Book Critics Circle. His reviews appear on NPR.org and KQED’s “The California Report.” He is the Managing Editor of ZYZZYVA.
ZYZZYVA publishes the best prose, poetry, and visual art produced by West Coast writers and artists—along with the occasional piece from east of California. Since 1985, they’ve published such writers as Sherman Alexie, Raymond Carver, Aimee Bender, Po Bronson, F.X. Toole, Haruki Murakami, Richard Rodriguez, and Daniel Handler; poets such as Kay Ryan, Adrienne Rich, Matthew Zapruder, Czeslaw Milosz, W.S. Di Piero, and Francisco X. Alarcon, and have featured work from such artists as Ed Ruscha, Sandow Birk, Laurie Anderson, Richard Diebenkorn, and Wayne Thiebaud. Visit: www.zyzzyva.org